I remember my professor telling me something along the lines of “If you can write your thesis based on a single word, you’ve done well:
Well, if you can reach that level of close reading, you should be labelled appropriately as a God of Literature. Most of us are probably never going to reach that level of close reading but that is no reason to give up on close reading.
I have has assignments when my professors told me not to use ANY other sources for the essay to train us on close reading. And its really easy to panic, especially if you’ve never done such an essay. This is my own experience on how I decide if I’m on the right track. It differs from person to person though.
1. How bulky are the quotes from the text am I examining?
If my quotes are bulky, it means I run the risk of trying to substitute quotes for analysis if the paragraph lengths are the same. As such, unless I am pointing out something in context, I try to avoid block quotes in favour of shorter quotes.
2. Am I examining the connotation of the words?
I don’t merely want to give you the meaning of the word (any dictionary can do that!), my job is to analyze how the meaning gives it a certain connotation in the context of the sentence. If I can do that, that’s quite a few words cleared.
3. Finally, what does this all mean?
Pretty much I can do all of that but it doesn’t mean zilch if it doesn’t correlate to the argument in some way, so it has to support [or not] my thesis in some way.